So, you want to paint models fast? Speed painting a miniature takes skill, but most of all it’s about cutting corners. When I want to finish a project fast, I speed paint miniatures with a different mindset. In general, I know that I can speed paint a single 28-35mm scale miniature to a tabletop standard in about 30-60 minutes. A display quality paint job for the same model could take me more than 2 hours with almost no upper time limit.
In this article, I break down my philosophy and approach for painting miniatures fast. I’ve fallen back on this method many times to get projects done fast, and pretty darn good looking as well.
Read on for my thoughts and tips for speed painting miniatures.
The Key to Speed: Your “Eye”
The “eye” is a way of thinking.
Think big. See big.
In other words, the “eye” is my way of saying I try to think about the miniature as many big shapes stuck together.
Kind of like a lego house. The many smaller pieces come together to form the whole structure.
The key to seeing like this is trying to see the biggest pieces of the whole.
Again, when speed painting a miniature, I’m looking for big elements. For example, a 40k Space Marine from Games Workshop has large shoulder pads. Or a war jack from Warmachine has a large torso with small legs.
Once I find the big elements, I plan to paint all those parts the same color.
Use your “eye” to see what those big parts are in each model you want to paint fast.
Once you’re able to identify what defines a model’s shape, you will paint faster in no-time.
You’ll be surprised how good your model’s final results look, too!
An oil canvas painter once told me to “start with a big brush”. With a big brush, he said he could envision what he wanted to create better.
It did take me a few moments to figure out what this artist meant. But, it dawned on me that he was saying this: if you want to think big, use big tools.
Use the biggest brush you think can get the job done (here’s what I use). This point also makes sense in light of how common airbrushing is within our mini painting community.
Airbrushes are the biggest brush you can use on a miniature. But, you don’t need one for speed painting. Just grab a large high-quality brush.
On the other hand, if you do use an airbrush, consider using an ultrasonic cleaner to speed up the cleaning process. They are affordable and easy-to-use.
How is speed painting different than “normal” painting?
When you paint a miniature at normal speed (or casually as I like to call it), you’re looking at what each element is made-of.
For example, the hair of a model should be one color, the skin might be another. When you paint a leather coat, it should look very distinct than the shoes or the belt buckle that holds up the denim jeans.
If you’re pulling out a magnifying visor for speed painting, you’re doing it wrong. Here are some magnifying visors I use for high-quality level painting.
Speed painting a miniature forgets all this specific information.
You want to paint your miniatures with a small color palette. For speed painting, I aim to have no more than 5 colors. With just 5 colors I can paint almost every model to a tabletop quality.
Make sure you shake up your paints thoroughly for reliable pigment coverage!
Check out these speedy model paint mixers.
Contrast: light and dark?
Contrast is the most important thing you need to keep in mind when you speed paint.
Always remember contrast!
What is contrast?
Contrast is how bright and dark your model is. The more different the “brightness value” between your bright colors and your dark colors are, the better your model will look.
When you choose your colors, make sure one is really dark, and one is really bright.
But, follow this rule: avoid using pure black or pure white.
You want to limit the use of these colors because they are the extremes of at either end of the brightness spectrum. Pure black and white paints tend to make a model look “boring” or “flat”, unless you paint them with a different eye than what you use for speed painting.
A quick way to add contrast after your base coat a model is to dip it in a dark wash.
Other ways to speed paint and maintain contrast is to use an oil wash to add dark values (you’ll need a dry palette for this). You can follow-up with dry brushing to add highlights (see an example here where I combine these methods).
What determines a good-looking speed painted model?
There are 3 things that contribute to the final outcome of a painted miniature. These elements include:
- Time – The more time that an artist invests in painting a miniature, the better the model will look.
- Model size or complexity – The larger or more complex the model, the more skill and time you will need to finish the job well.
- Skill/experience – The more skill and experience an artist has, the more efficient he will be (e.g., faster and better painting).
To understand to speed paint a miniature, look at how time is allocated to each phase of a painted miniature.
What do I mean by time allocation?
Miniature painting takes time.
Interestingly, the time to paint a miniature can be sub-divided into four phases (see below in Figure 1 and 2).
There’s a preparation phase where a model’s surface is prepared, e.g., cleaned/smoothed, and primed. The base coat phase is the first layer of color. The layer and highlight phase uses the most proportion of the overall time to paint a miniature. Then, the final phase would include finishing the base or applying a varnish.
Of course these “steps or phases” are very general. A painter may bounce between these phases as they prefer. For example, flocking a base or assembly of a model may occur later or earlier in the painting process.
In either case, the total time spent painting a model involves different steps.
Did you know you can breakdown mini painting into “phases”?
All creative projects have a workflow.
When I think about any creative project, I try to break it down into small bite-sized parts.
Each phase differs in time, depending on the your desired outcome quality.
Two important notes about painting phases
- The speed and time needed in each painting phase is reliant on the technical skill of the miniature painter.
- Base coating takes less skill than the layering/highlight phase.
A miniature painter aiming for a tabletop standard finish may spend more time base coating than layering or highlighting. Layering and highlighting generally needs color blending of some sort (figure 1).
On the other hands, a miniature painter who is looking for a high-quality finish will spend more time preparing the surface of their miniature. They will also invest most of their time in the technical layering and highlight process (figure 2).
In fact, base coating might be faster for the experienced painter. They will have the tools or knowledge to paint large surfaces efficiently. This allows a skilled painter to invest more in details with layering/highlights.
But, for speed painting, remember you’re not looking for details. You want to see and paint big shapes! Remember your ‘eye’ (see above in this article).
Bottomline: If you want to paint fast, paint to a tabletop standard
To speed paint a miniature, I recommend you try to follow these tips:
- Think Big: Develop your “eye” for large shapes
- Paint as many big defining shapes in the same color
- Look for large parts, not details or materials
- Big Brush: Use the biggest high-quality brush that will do the job
- This can be an airbrush or a flat bristle brush (see here for more details on brushes)
- Limit Your Palette: Try and paint with no more than 5 colors on your palette
- Strong Contrast: Keep your lights and darks as far apart as possible
- Use techniques like dipping and oil or ink washes to darken recesses (example here)
- Dry brush to add highlights (e.g, bright colors)
- Invest the Right Time: Aim for a tabletop standard in painting quality
- Spend most of your time painting the base coat
- Decide that you are done when most of your model is covered in the base coat paint layer